Resolution as a contribution to reconciliation between Turks and Armenians - Tessa Hofmann (Part II)

15:37 • 10.06.16



Presently, there are a lot of discussions about possible problems between Turkey and Germany. The Turkish authorities are now very aggressive. They also recalled their  ambassador from Germany. What kind of process do you think we should expect from Turkey? Will that be a real problem in the Turkish-German relations?

Already two days after the issuance it becomes obvious that very soon we shall be back to routine business with Turkey. As the Chancellor mentioned, German-Turkish relations are too numerous and complex (to be disturbed by a resolution on memory and history politics). Recalling ambassadors has also become a routine in the history of now 26 recognitions by national legislators, and as a rule the diplomatic representatives are very soon back to their offices. As you know, the head of government, i.e. the Chancellor, her deputy Gabriel and the FO Minister Steinmeier were absent during the debate and voting. This was certainly done with the intention to indirectly help Erdoğan to preserve his reputation as Turkey’s strongman. As a sign of undeclared gratitude Turkey’s new PM has already announced that the EU-Turkey agreement on refugees will not be damaged by the resolution – and this risk of damage has certainly Angela Merkel’s biggest concern.

The German Bundestag admits its share of responsibility for the Armenian Genocide. Can we such an admission serve as grounds for asking compensation from Germany too?

Already in the 2005 resolution the Bundestag has acknowledged the involvement of Imperial Germany for the ‘massacres’ and ‘expulsion’ of the Ottoman Armenians. Please do not overestimate such concessions, for they are constructs that help Germany to comment on the historical guilt of another country. The German legislators then and today found themselves in the difficult situation that it would not be convincing if Germany blames Turkey for genocide, whereas during the 20th century Germany was twice the only author of serial genocides: in Namibia against the Herero, Nama and other indigenous people during 1904-1908 (albeit the first genocide of the 20th century) and during WW2 against European Jews and the Sinti/Roma people. Therefore the German lawmakers already in 2005 decided to emphasize German involvement in the WW1 genocide against the Armenians and other indigenous Christians of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia and by this way to remind Turkey that it is necessary for countries and societies with genocidal pasts to pro-actively address this past. If you wish, the mention of German involvement constitutes a tactical approach for officially commemorating the Armenian genocide. In its official response to a parliamentary enquiry by an oppositional Socialist fraction, the Federal Government declared in 2011 that it recoils from the term ‘genocide’ as long as juridical cases on Armenian compensation claims against German banks   are pending in the USA.

As you are certainly also aware, such cases are ongoing since more than ten years.

In the given context we have also to determine what precisely would be a German co-responsibility for the Armenian genocide? Ottoman Turkey was a sovereign state, and the ruling war regime of Ittihatist nationalists did not need German inspiration to commit genocide. Since the mid-1960s, scholars of history agree that under the given circumstances and political morals of the period, the German pursuit of national interests was not extraordinary. The view of these scholars – and in my view also – the responsibility lies in the fact that the German government, despite all its firsthand knowledge on the scope and the speed of the destruction of Ottoman Christians stayed more or less indolent, for fear of risking a relevant military alliance. In addition, the (meanwhile bankrupt) German firm Philipp Holzmann, which has been charged with the construction of the Baghdad railways, benefited from Armenian slave labor in 1915/6. Thirdly, Armenians and other Ottoman Christians had immense deposits at German and other foreign banks. Where heirs of the murdered Christians remained, these deposits are the subject of the above mentioned court cases in the USA and other countries. A parliamentary resolution may be helpful, but is not mandatory for such legal proceedings.

As far as the current parliamentary resolution is concerned, the financial commitment will be in the field of historical research, genocide awareness education and cross-community projects that serve reconciliation.




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